Arts and Culture

The Cross and God’s Unconditional Love

Third in a Lenten Series

Before sitting down at my computer to write this particular column, I re-read a section of Father Ronald Rolheiser’s book, “The Passion and the Cross” (Franciscan Media, 2015). One reason was that I wanted to make sure that I understood what Father Rolheiser was saying. The other was that the section so beautifully presented the meaning of God that I wanted to savor it and use it as an antidote to the unfortunate images of God that I have received at different times in my life.

Unfortunate images of God can stay with us for years. It can be difficult to replace them with the God that Jesus reveals in the Gospels. There may be no more powerful image of God’s love than the cross. Even the depth of the image seems infinite.

Father Rolheiser writes that in Jesus’ death we see right into God’s heart, that because of Jesus’ death, there is no longer a veil between us and God’s heart. In trying to elaborate on this, Father Rolheiser uses the rainbow. Noting that we usually don’t see light but rather see by light, Father Rolheiser points out that the one exception is a rainbow. He writes:

“If light is shone through a prism, the prism refracts the light, literally breaking it up so that we see inside it. And the result is stunning. We see that the inside of light is spectacularly beautiful, comprised of seven beautiful colors. In a rainbow, in one manner of speaking, we see the inside of God, physically, and we see that God’s inside is beautiful.

The cross is a prism that refracts God’s moral interior; it tears away the veil that prevents us from seeing inside God’s heart, and what we see, like the colors in a rainbow, is spectacularly beautiful. The moral heart of God breaks down into spectacularly beautiful colors too; unconditional love and its various manifestations. The cross of Jesus is the real icon of the Trinity and it is also the ultimate revelation of God (pp. 34-35). ”

As followers of Christ, we can spend the rest of our lives meditating on God’s “unconditional love and its various manifestations.” What first comes to my mind when I think of the various manifestations of God’s unconditional love are the various attributes that I might attribute to God in a philosophy course such as omnipotence, omniscience and eternal. But these appear more vibrant, exciting and attractive when reflected on in relation to God’s moral heart. Those attributes are quickly replaced in my mind by the image of God that Jesus gave us in his parables. Every parable reveals God’s love for us – from the woman searching in her house for the lost coin to the Father welcoming back his prodigal son – seems too good to be true. No matter how many times we think about God’s love for us or how deeply we appreciate how much God loves us, we barely touch upon the profound truth of God’s redeeming love.

When a person experiences human love, that person’s life can be changed dramatically. The beloved’s image of himself or herself can be greatly enriched and the beloved can experience a special joy because of the love received. One of the great joys in life comes from the experience of receiving the gift of another person’s love. If that can happen to us because we experience the love from another person what might our experience be if we could appreciate, at least to some extent, how much God loves us? We would experience a joy so profound that it might co-exist even with disappointment, a joy that would not be superficial but rather would reside deep in our souls. It might be a joy that permeates our personality and greatly influences our approach to our daily activities, a joy that might withstand anything.

Father Rolheiser writes: “…God is love, light, truth and beauty; a gentle if persistent invitation, one that’s never a threat. God is like a mother, gently trying to coax another step out of a young child learning to walk…God exists as an infinite patience…God never overpowers anyone (pp. 35-36).”

All of us are sinners and we have made mistakes that we regret, but reading Father Rolheiser has given me a consoling thought. The infinitely patient God is not finished with us yet.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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